One of the two main works we do at Cabrini Ministries Swaziland is Care of Orphans and Vulnerable Children, or OVC (the other major work is Health Care Outreach). The child care program was established in 2002 to respond to the HIV/AIDS and TB pandemics by caring for OVC and helping their extended families.
One of the most apparent effects of the swift spread of HIV in the community was the growing number of children rendered parentless. Children were taken in by relatives, neighbors, or in some cases were forced to fend for themselves. In 2002, a boarding hostel was established on the Mission in response to the local orphan crisis. The Hostel was to provide food, shelter, and supervision for many of the children who had lost both of their parents (often termed double orphans) and were living by themselves at a child-headed homestead or some other equally dangerous living situation.
Fifty children were originally admitted, with the number nearly doubling by the end of the first week. Many of those inaugural children still reside at the Hostel during the school year, with new intakes coming every January. We currently have about 120 orphans living at the hostel, many as groups of siblings as we try to keep families together.
The child care services provided by Cabrini Ministries extend beyond a roof above the heads of 120 orphans; the Hostel has become a home where local women provide these vulnerable children with loving care, medical services, balanced nutrition, school enrollment as well as educational enrichment activities, and assistance in strengthening and maintaining positive relationships with what family they have. In several instances, Cabrini Ministries has helped children find family they did not know existed, and in that way have taken an active role in restoring life for these children.
Many of these services have been made possible through child sponsorship facilitated by Cabrini Mission Foundation in the United States and Cabrini Health in Australia. Since 2002, individuals have also made annual contributions in support of children residing at the Hostel. We’re very excited to report that this year Mrs. Petronella Mamba Mnisi, originally from the Mamba kingdom, one of the three chiefdoms served, has become our first sponsor from Swaziland! It’s very rewarding to see such generosity come from within the community. We hope to see more Swazi sponsors to follow.
As organizational and paradigmatic growth has occurred, we have moved from speaking only of the Hostel to a broader label of Child Care. Over time, it has become clear that here is a need for expanding services to new levels of care, with a goal of providing psychosocial support to the children of the community. These extended services include providing educational sponsorship to over 100 children from the area, transition programming for Hostel children moving on to the next stage of their lives, and increasing assistance with legal documentation and other referrals. Acquiring legal documents like birth and death certificates – which are not automatically distributed in Swaziland – is vital for orphaned children to receive many of the services for which they are eligible.
Cabrini Ministries is seeking ways to expand support in facilitating these processes throughout the community. For example, the organization has begun exploring relationships with local caregivers of Neighborhood Care Points (NCPs – gathering points where orphans and vulnerable children receive a meal and supervision from volunteer caregivers from their area) to identify potential points of collaboration.
This expansion of services will mean good things for the children of the three chiefdoms served by Cabrini Ministries as we continue to act on our long term commitment to improving the life of each child. Yet it will be a slow process, requiring development of understanding and skill among the staff and organization as a whole. Hopefully it will mean the restoration of more lives, and increased hope for the future.